A couple of weeks ago, a pastor in Pennsylvania emailed a question after reading The Mission of Preaching. (By the way, getting emails like that is a huge thrill and I’m so happy to be in conversation about missional preaching.) He was intrigued by the idea of a communal preaching ministry, and asked what specific things I had done at the church I serve to develop that. Great question! Here’s my answer…
Each week, I lead a mid-week “feed forward” group that meets to study the preaching text for the coming week. It’s a very open-ended Bible study, lectio divina in style. I do some textual exegesis to set the stage, and then we discuss the text, seeking new insights in the interaction between life and text that happens in the conversation. I lift up this Bible study a lot in the life of the congregation, celebrating it, stressing how important it is to me, etc. Those who participate have a real sense of partnership in sermon creation, and it is always deeply helpful not only to know what a text says to a person, but also how it interacts with their spiritual journey.
In addition to this group, there is another group of people I have cultivated as “preachers.” It began several years ago by encouraging people to share testimonies, something I try do regularly. At least 3 or 4 Sundays a year, the sermon is a faith-story testimony from someone in the church. These aren’t my vacation Sundays. I’m always there on those Sundays and usually frame the testimony with some brief scripture/interpretation. Out of that practice has arisen a few who really enjoy that ministry and found a sense of calling and fulfillment in it. Now, when I take a Sunday off, I will often ask one of that group to preach the sermon.
I think what is possible depends a lot on the culture and size of the church, and the interests of the pastor. I can’t foresee ever preaching fewer than 35 Sundays a year, just because I love to preach. The next step beyond what I have done might be to create a preaching planning team that could collaboratively plan preaching series, look at texts together, brainstorm possibilities, and share preaching. Based on the enthusiasm of a few of the lay preachers, I think a team of 3 or 4 would not be hard to put together.
There are many reasons to develop a preaching team in a church, even a church with only one “professional pastor.” Among the best reasons is that God is already speaking to and through the people in the congregation. The special calling of the pastor is to call out and lift up those voices!